192? – August 27, 2021
Yes, you read that correctly. Mom and we never knew when she was born! It was a standing joke all our life. Thank you for making the time to visit this website and reading a slice of Maria’s life story.
Due to Covid concerns, a service will not be held at this time. In true humble fashion, Mom pleaded (i.e.strict instructions!) with her daughters to not write anything about her. Well, she left us a final challenge to be creative while saying “nothing”! However, we can’t just let her slip away that easily. Her remarkable life story begs for some mention though we promised her to keep it short.
How to capture the essence of Maria? Near impossible. What a life journey she had. How, we wondered, could anybody create such a rich life out of nothing? Times were tough in the Soviet Union when she was a kid. Her mother died in childbirth, her father left for the war. Between starvation and becoming an orphan, Mom had to rely on her instincts, perseverance, resourcefulness, and the goodness of people. Tough job when you’re a kid. Then came the war; first the work camps then the concentration camps. But, even in the camps, captivity couldn’t squash her fiery spirit; she protected and stood up for those who were struggling, fought for her dignity, and even tried and managed a 10-day escape. We called her survival miraculous; she called it survival, merely doing “what I had to do”'. Admittedly, she also said she was one of the fortunate ones.
No parent would ever want their children to have to endure the early years that mom did. Yet, we were all benefactors of her trials. It gave her the unique ability to know where, when and who needed a helping hand, warm embrace, or an appreciative welcoming smile. She let people know they are seen, heard and that they matter. When you’ve come from nothing, a simple kindness from anyone meant the world to mom. She lived that way right to her last conscious breath.
Though her story could be the making of an intoxicating novel or film, she always maintained she was one of many who had to create new lives post WWII. England was her deportation stop when the camps were liberated. Flying solo at such a young age in a new country with a new language (her fifth) and merely the shirt on her back was both her challenge and her opportunity. She gravitated toward good people (or vice versa?), a good nursing education, and an evolving sense of self.
It was England that provided her first formal education and the start of her nursing career. She felt a strong and warm connection to England throughout her life. And as a constant reminder she lived her entire life with a metal plate in her leg from being hit by a double decker bus! What a souvenir! Her final move as a DP (displaced person) was to Canada via London, New York, Winnipeg, Selkirk. Connecting those dots is a story unto itself!
The Queen Mary took her across the ocean to New York with only a $5 bill and her nursing books. She boarded the train in New York which took her to the Royal Alexander station in Winnipeg. She walked from that Higgins station to her new temporary home and job at the Manitoba Club on Broadway Ave. That was a stopgap before she could move into residence at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre.
It was in Selkirk, Manitoba that she met a shy Chinese man driving a bright red Chevy. Henry Lee. His family owned the well-known Louis Lee’s Chinese restaurant in Selkirk. Their first official date was to the Shanghai restaurant. Mom had never eaten such food and it did not agree with her! Despite all odds and cross-cultural marriage norms of the time, they married. Dad, a hockey player, took off his skates and secretly took up ballroom dancing “in the big city of Winnipeg” to please Mom. Isn’t that too sweet? Role reversal and co-parenting was their style before the terms became vogue. They gave every experience imaginable to their girls – sports, the Arts, travel, and, of course, formal education.
Mom’s 30+ year professional life was at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre (SMHC). She embraced her life of Psychiatric Nursing; Psycho-Geriatrics and Community Mental Health was her passion and her specialty. Many of her patients were folded into our family unit; we recall sharing many occasions and dinners together. Indeed, she made her mark, professionally and personally, with her colleagues, patients, and their families.
When Dad passed away in 1983, the three Lee Girls became tighter than a sailor’s knot.
Then came the years of travelling. She believed it was important for all of us to learn about our world, immerse in other cultures, understand that humanity exists in all pockets of the globe. Travel was seen as an invaluable extension of education beyond the books. To that end she/we travelled to over 50 countries.
That indescribable “je ne sais quoi” about Maria explains, in part, how she survived, created, and celebrated such a meaningful life. She had forces guiding her. Her family. People like you. We’ve collected words that many of you sent to us in your recent messages and we’ve put them together in a “Word Cloud”. (see below).
Suffice to say, Maria wove a life tapestry rich in colour, strong in fibre, and with a requisite touch of whimsy.
So many of you have written to ask of our plans to mark Mom's memory; thank you for such lovely and gracious thoughts. Terèsa and Michelle are planning to do two things at one of mom’s meaningful places. We will place a Comfort Bench and plant a tree at her last home, The Portsmouth Residence, Winnipeg. The Portsmouth family embraced Mom’s indomitable spirit – it was a place where she enjoyed the visits of her new friends (especially all the staff), where she felt safe, comforted, and made her smile daily. The Portsmouth is planning a development of the beautiful grassy oasis in the middle of the roundabout. Nature was a mainstay in Mom’s life. We hope it will become a place where residents and families may gather to sit under the tree, tickle their feet on the grass, and just “be”.
Most importantly, Mom would be chuffed if you were to give an extra hug, have a conversation with your loved ones, or reach out to someone who could use a comforting word. We saw, firsthand, the impact of Mom’s practice of “paying it forward”.
We would be remiss if we did not pay our respects and profound gratitude to people who brought such comfort, joy, and care to Mom in her last leg of life’s journey.
The Portsmouth Retirement Residence and every single staff member. You made her feel charmed, respected, and worthy. You have created an environment that truly values the individual character of each resident. You went above and beyond to accept our little family and embrace our lives together. It was the perfect choice of home for Mom at such a critical juncture in her life.
Dr. Brian Lindenschmidt (Selkirk) and Dr. Ian Maharaj (Winnipeg), her family physicians, who stood steadfast by Mom and supported her/us in ways that are a testament to their oath and humanity.
Dr. Sara Korsunsky and her caring colleagues at the Centre for Natural Medicine. Your intervention and care kept her alive and kicking well beyond the expected years. My oh my, we have learned SO much from you. You opened our eyes to a whole new world of healthcare. Thank you.
Dr. John Rabson who always made mom chuckle. He really “got” mom’s humour and thinking. She would always exclaim after a good bill of health “ …you mean I have to stay alive for another 9 months?!” Thank you.
Dr. Jason Kemp, Audiologist, who brought her endless giggles along with the gift of sound and allowed her fiery spirit to soar again.
JRTC Home Care Services (Cherry Aguilar and Staff). You came into mom’s life at a critical time and you touched her heart. Thank you.
Special Nurses and Aides who came into mom’s life throughout her time at The Portsmouth. You know who you are. Your ongoing concern and support for Mom and our family knew no bounds. You made a difference in Mom and our lives. Thank you.
Our friends. Goodness, you were our salve, joy, and respite throughout Mom’s long journey. Your continued expressions of love touch us and buoy us to face each hurdle with grace and gratitude. You fill our lives with much love, laughter, and song. Thank you for having walked with us for so long.
Of course, as her children, we were only witnesses (or 2nd party hearsay) to bits of Mom’s exchanges with you. If you have a memory or story, please share on this website. To this day, we marvel at Mom’s outreach and would love to hear your recollection.
From the depths of our hearts, thank you for…well, everything. It means more than mere words could ever express.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Maria Anna Lee, please visit our floral store.